Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does Poverty = Obesity?

I just read this article over at CNN which basically equates poverty with obesity.  That has been a pretty common hypothesis since the obesity rates started climbing a couple of decades ago.  The main points of the article are that poor people are fat because they can't afford nutritious food and because nutritious food is not available in stores in areas of high poverty. Growing up poor (but not fat) I have a bunch of random thoughts on this:

  • Kids these days get no exercise.  When we were kids (back in the dark ages) we played outside from dawn to dusk (the only technology back then was a TV set with three channels and it was never turned on until evening so there was no motivation to stay inside) plus the thing all parents told their kids was "go outside and play"--basically to get us out of their hair for a while.  We worked on our grandparents farm, participated in PE class, recess, and after school sports, and were generally always in motion.  Obviously things have changed a great deal since then.  Technology keeps many people (me included!) inside and on my computer most of the time these days.  Plus I've seen plenty of poor neighborhoods where you wouldn't want your kids to play outside for fear of them getting beat up or shot so there is that.
  • Parents these days don't cook.  Since I was raised by a single mother, I know how hard it is for single parents who work all day to come home and cook from scratch.  If it wasn't for my grandparents who only cooked nutritious food from scratch I probably would have ended up much less healthier than I did (my mom's idea of a home-cooked meal was a TV dinner).
  • There is too much temptation for fast food and junk food these days.  Again, back in the dark ages and growing up in a rural area, there was a truck stop restaurant a few miles from us and a couple of quick stop stores and that was it.  No Walmarts, no Starbucks, and the closest (and only) fast food restaurant was a McDonalds many miles away...there was basically no place to go for junk food even if we wanted it (also we had no money so that played a role as well).  If we wanted junk food we had to sweet talk grandma into baking cookies or making candy for us.  These days they even sell junk food and fast food on school campuses!
  • There was a lot less processed food back then.  I bet that my grandmother, if she suddenly came to life today, would be hard pressed to identify half of what is sold in grocery stores these days.  Gogurt, hot pockets...there is so much processed crap in stores these days that no wonder people are fat and sick if this is what their diet consists of!
  • We rarely went out to eat back then.  I can count on one hand the number of times my grandparents went out to eat (and of course they went out without us kids).  With my mom, we went out a few more times than that but still it wasn't an everyday occurrence like it is for many people today.
  • There wasn't nearly the number of restaurants back then and they didn't serve troughs of food like they do now.  Living in Las Vegas, or any other large city for that matter, you can literally find any kind of restaurant you want these days.  Plus the number of buffets has increased exponentially over time and you can now eat your weight in food if you so desire which definitely isn't healthy. 
  • Finally, the article points out that the highest obesity rates are in the south.  Besides a number of anthropological reasons for this, I can attest that cooking in the south is way better than cooking I have found in other part of the country.  If something can be breaded and deep fried, they will bread and deep fry it which is oh so yummy and oh so unhealthy.  Also, when we were in the south, I swear they did things with food that I have never seen done before (at the Cracker Barrel restaurant they have a wonderful hash brown pie that consists of hash browns--which can be relatively nutritious--but they add to it globs of butter and cheese and cream which makes the dish even tastier--and even worse for your health).
Now that I have ranted a bit, here are some solutions:

  • Get active, even if it means taking your kids to the local park and playing with them for an hour a day.
  • Don't bring junk food into your home.  This way you will be forced to eat what you have (healthy stuff hopefully) or you will be forced to make it yourself (potato chips are easy to eat by the bagful when you buy them but if you have to take the time to make them from scratch you end up with less of them to eat and with more effort used to make them).
  • Don't eat out.  This means no stops for coffee at Starbucks in the morning, no running by the local pizza restaurant for take out after work, no bribing your kids with McDonalds, etc.  Obviously this is easier said than done if you are a single parent or a super busy two-parent family.
  • Grow a garden.  Again, it is a bit time and labor intensive but it can pay off with a lot of fresh, healthful food at your fingertips.
  • Cook from scratch.  Even cooking food similar to what you would find in a restaurant at home can leave you a lot healthier than eating out because you control what goes into your food (hint: it will probably be a lot less fat, sugar, and salt than what cooks in restaurants use to make their food extra appealing).
  • Only buy items your great grandparents would recognize.  People say that nutritious food is expensive but one bag of oatmeal isn't that expensive and it lasts a very long time (of course it is much more boring than sugary cereals but it is also much more nutritious).  Ditto for rice, beans, eggs, apples, etc.
  • Go on a junk food fast.  Right now your taste buds are probably accustomed to lots of fat, sugar, and salt in your diet so eating foods without these items makes the food taste super bland.  But you could try an experiment--for one month cut these items out of your diet.  You will be amazed at how your taste buds react after going a month without them!
  • If you do eat out, drink water with your meal (it's free), share a meal with someone instead of each person ordering their own meal (hubby and I always do this and often still have food left over to take home), and skip dessert (this is also a big money save).  
The bottom line is that I don't think being poor has to equal being fat.  If we go back to our roots and eat a more healthful diet, minus all of the garbage and the "convenience" of convenience foods, and move a lot more than we do now, our obesity rates could be drastically reduced.


  1. What an awesome post!!! I agree with all of it! :)

  2. I would like to add that it is a good idea to pack your child's lunch each day. I'm a lunch lady and the food I serve to elementary school consists of the following on a regular rotating basis: chicken nuggets, popcorn chicken, chicken patty, mac n cheese, grilled cheese, corn dogs, cheeseburgers, pizza, tacos, hot dogs, etc. (and if a kid has the money, he can buy a second entree for only a dollar and many do). Plus we sell snacks every day which consist of: fresh baked cookies and hot pretzels, ice cream and chips. I see America's kids getting chubbier right before my eyes, rich and poor.

  3. When the lunch lady tells you to pack a lunch you know she knows what she is talking about! I've seen meals in hospitals and schools and you would think these would be the healthiest places to eat but that isnt true.